Man Utd’s forgotten man Berbatov would be perfect for Milan
August 2008. Dimitar Berbatov is the talk of the redtops, broadsheets and an hysterical Sky Sports News. The former Bayer Leverkusen forward is widely tipped to move from Tottenham to Manchester United, after Sir Alex Ferguson admits he’s an admirer of the classy Bulgarian. In London, meanwhile, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy submits a complaint to the Premier League about a breach of the strict transfer rules governing clubs, deeming that Ferguson has overstepped the mark in his admiration.
With Spurs ultimately powerless to stop Man Utd swooping in for their player, and the man himself professing a strongly held desire to go to Old Trafford, Berbatov moved on deadline day (or just after, depending on who you believe) for an eye-watering £30m. He was 27.
Four years is a long time in football, yet it’s astonishing just how far Berbatov’s stock has fallen since that summer. Now 31, last week he resorted to the desperate measure of making his desire to either play or be moved known on his official Facebook profile, complaining of mixed messages from the management over his asking price. He has become the Premier League’s forgotten man. Hard to believe of a player who, along with Robinho and his surprising move to Manchester City, was once a jewel in the crown of a ludicrously hyped transfer window.
What’s more, Berbatov’s record at Man Utd gives him reason to feel slightly hard done by. The season before last, he was their top scorer and shared the golden boot for the Premier League’s best marksman. Despite limited chances in the past season, he managed to net a respectable seven goals in 12 starts, including a hat-trick against Wigan. Nevertheless, Ferguson appeared reluctant to throw him into the mix for any of the Mancunians’ important fixtures. How, and why, has he become persona non grata?
In short, Berbatov is a victim of both United’s system and his own attitude. He isn’t the quickest, most agile forward, and with his club’s attacking threat reliant on rapid transitional play – with quick strikers rather than a talented but languid frontman who can also hold the ball up – Sir Alex has preferred to go with one or two of Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. Meanwhile, Berbatov has a tendency to come across as moody and lazy when things don’t go his way – hardly a position conducive to fighting one’s way back into a top team.
The good news for Berbatov, though, is that there’s no shortage of suitors for his services. Several clubs have made their interest public, including his old stomping ground of Leverkusen. The Lions were linked with him in January, and struggled for goals last season. In fact, they were the second-lowest scorers in the top six, way behind the big guns of Dortmund and Bayern Munich. While wages and the signing of Chilean striker Junior Fernándes might make this move slightly less likely, the north-west German club managed to strike a deal with another former club legend, Michael Ballack, so could potentially overcome the hurdles should Berbatov have his heart set on a return.
Yet the most obvious candidates for his signature reside much further south, in the form of Milan. The Italian giants have just offloaded Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a huge sum, and desperately need to strengthen after haemorrhaging just about every great player they have. What’s more, the Bulgarian comes from a similar mould as the talented Ibra, and could well fill at least part of the void he’s left. The asking price wouldn’t put off the Milan president, Silvio Berlusconi, who rapidly needs to claw back some PR currency after offloading the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Pippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf and Thiago Silva.
It’s easy to imagine the illustrious European club appealing to the Bulgarian, and with the twin allures of Champions League football next term (something not available at Leverkusen) and Italian football seemingly matched to his style of play, he’d surely prefer a move to the Rossoneri. Don’t be too surprised to see him exchanging a red shirt for a red-and-black-striped one before the end of August.
Whichever club secures Berbatov’s services, they’ll be buying talent that’s proven at the very highest level. Reports of his performances in training and during United’s first pre-season game have been encouraging. The real task will be motivating him and keeping him keen, but initially that shouldn’t be a problem: after so long in the wilderness, Dimitar Berbatov will be itching to set the record straight. Surely he knows there’s no better stage on which to do so than the San Siro.
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